Royal Albert Hall Celebrates 150th Anniversary By Reopening With Full Capacity Crowd
Royal Albert Hall reopened last night at full capacity for the first time since March 2020, with a specially commissioned concert for its 150th anniversary and an exciting lineup of special guests, including actors Michael Sheen and Charles Dance, scientist Brian Cox, boxer Nicola Adams and Helen Pankhurst, great granddaughter of suffragette Emmeline. The event marked the start of the Hall’s anniversary celebrations, which will now extend into 2023, with leading performers, commissions and new talent. The Hall was closed for the first time since the Blitz during the Second World War, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in over £50m in losses and £20m debt.
The Royal Albert Hall was opened by Queen Victoria on 29 March 1871. Its 150th anniversary concert was scheduled to take place exactly 150 years on but was postponed due to pandemic restrictions. A Circle of Sound, a ten-chapter special anniversary commission by renowned composer David Arnold (James Bond films, Independence Day, Little Britain, Sherlock) was performed last night to celebrate every aspect of Royal Albert Hall including music, dance, sport and science. Royal Albert Hall has showcased the most famous classical, pop and rock musicians, including Wagner, Dvorak, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and ABBA, as well as sumo wrestling competitions, boxing and tennis tournaments.
Royal Albert Hall, world renowned for its concerts, including its famous annual “Proms” series has also hosted many other important and surprising events such as 20 Suffragette rallies before women won the vote in 1918. The first British indoor marathon was run in the Royal Albert Hall on 18 December 1909 on a track covered in coconut matting. A military band and new Italian tenor provided music to “make the time pass more pleasantly” for the 2,000 spectators.
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The Hall’s anniversary concert was performed by students from the Tri-borough Music Hub, alongside the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and a full symphony orchestra made up of players from in-house Albert’s Band. Each of the ten parts of David Arnold’s concert was introduced by a special guests on themes including legendary musical performance, sports and science – with appearances from Melanie C, Michael Sheen, Nicola Adams, Brian Cox, Claudia Winkleman, Jess Gillam, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Charles Dance, LionHeart, Jemma Redgrave and Helen Pankhurst. The introductions were crafted by notable British writers, including Neil Gaiman, Jack Thorne and Joe Penhall.
Lucy Noble, Artistic Director at the Royal Albert Hall, said: “What better way to mark the occasion than this spectacular concert, which will start our 150th anniversary celebrations with a bang. It’s been a thrill to work with David Arnold on this piece, and we’re so excited about all the incredible talent he’s drawn in to write, narrate, and take part in this story – which manages to reflect so much of the Hall’s unbelievable journey.”
Flyweight Nicola Adams, the first female boxer to fight at the Hall, introduced the sports segment, marking the thousands of sporting events the Hall has seen, including being the home of British boxing for over 100 years.
A movement in the concert celebrating activism, including the role of more than 20 Suffragette rallies, was introduced by Helen Pankhurst, great grand-daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst. Popular scientist Brian Cox discussed the role the “Central Hall of Arts and Sciences,” as Royal Albert Hall was originally called, played in scientific demonstration and debate – from electric lighting, telegraphy, amplified sound and radio, to Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and nylon garments. The Hall’s annual “festival of remembrance” was highlighted in a particularly poignant segment remembering fallen soldiers. And a final segment by Michael Sheen talked about the ghosts of performers and audiences past and encouraged all of us to look ahead to the next 150 years of creativity at the Royal Albert Hall.